Vatican Deeper in the Red

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by Martina Moyski  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  September 5, 2019   

Pope Francis calls meeting to fix finances

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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - The "Pope of the Poor" is running out of money. Reports from the Vatican indicate the deficit doubled in 2018 to $76.7 million (€70 million) on a budget of $331,378,500 (€300 million).

Pope Francis wrote a letter to Cdl. Reinhard Marx, head of the Vatican's financial oversight council, expressing the gravity of the situation in May, but the letter has not been made public. Now, a Sept. 20 meeting of Vatican department chiefs to address the issue is scheduled.

"I ask you to study all measures deemed necessary to safeguard the economic future of the Holy See and to ensure that they are put into effect as soon as possible," Pope Francis told Cdl. Marx, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, who gained a peek at the letter.

The Pope asked Cdl. Marx to "inform the respective heads about the gravity of the situation" whereupon the cardinal called the "extraordinary" meeting of Vatican department chiefs.

Various causes of the deficit have been put forth.

"Redundant jobs, wasteful procurement and a costly car fleet push up costs, while real-estate holdings around Rome are sometimes not maintained and rents not collected" have been reported as general causes.

The Vatican also took heavy losses in recent years with two hospitals, Immaculate Dermatological Institute (IDI) and Bambino Gesù Hospital. A partial write-off of about $33,117,150 (€30 million) to IDI suffering from "financial difficulties" approximately four years ago allegedly played into the deficit.


The cost of reassigning multiple locally disgraced clergy to cushy jobs at the Vatican have been added to the mix.

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of the Limburg, Germany, diocese, aka the "Bling Bishop," was removed due to public backlash against his spending an estimated $42 million on remodeling his diocesan center and residence, including $1.1 million for garden landscaping and even $22,000 for a bathtub, in October 2013.

Now, Tebartz-van Elst lives in Rome employed as a "delegate for catechesis" in the Council for New Evangelization. 

Church Militant reported on the case of Bp. Gustavo Zanchetta of Argentina who was suspended from his Vatican post in February after he was publicly accused of sexually abusing seminarians in 2016–2017. 

In June, Argentine officials criminally charged Zanchetta with "aggravated continuous sexual abuse" of two seminarians. He was also charged with financial misconduct, which included selling a diocese building for $800,000 improperly and leaving the transaction off the diocesan books.

He disappeared for some months, resurfacing in Rome in December 2017 as an "assessor" for the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), the Vatican's financial office which oversees millions of dollars in Church real estate in Italy and around the world and the Holy See's investment portfolio. 

It has since emerged that Pope Francis created the position for Zanchetta and that he brought his friend to Rome after learning of the allegations against him. 


Bishop Accountability reported that the Church has paid out nearly $4 billion in lawsuits over allegations of clerical sexual abuse leading back to the 1980s.

While local dioceses — and their parishioners — are responsible for financial settlements, parishioners throughout the world have been less likely to contribute to Vatican collections like Peter's Pence and other occasionally mandated collections which support the maintenance of Vatican sites.

Chosen on a reform mandate, Francis vowed early after assuming the papacy to clean up the Church's finances. Francis stated his desire to have "a church that is poor, and for the poor." His outward shows of frugality were seen as small-scale signals of the financial reform he would initiate throughout the Church overall.

The Pope made important appointments to control finances. In 2014, Francis appointed Australian Cdl. George Pell to the powerful position of prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. 

Cardinal Pell clashed with established interests at the Vatican, in part over the handing of funds at IDI, and the Pope curtailed his role. Last year, the cardinal was found guilty of sexually abusing minors in Australia in the 1990s, a conviction upheld on appeal last month.

Libero Milone, the Vatican's first auditor-general, appointed by Francis in 2015, resigned in 2017, saying he was forced to step down with trumped-up accusations after discovering evidence of possible illegal activity.

Neither of the positions have been filled, a vacuum that may also add to the mismanagement of funds and deficits.

Anonymous sources in Rome told Church Militant that word on the street is that the Vatican is "broke" and many fear layoffs are imminent. One source speculated that the deficit is a ruse to further reform and revamp the Church — especially as the upcoming Amazon Synod takes hold.

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